Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Detail #401: Finite verbs, infinitives and ...

I have recently taken to writing longer, even more typologically informed posts that sit around in my drafts folder waiting to be finished. One such post will be about infinitives and related forms.

My original intent with the post was a bit less ambitious than it now is, and the original ideas I set out to give a context for now seem to fit better in a separate post altogether.

Let us consider finite verbs and infinitives. This is a very simple two-way split. Could we turn it into a three-way split?

It's of course easy to write a half-assed description in a grammar that says something like "this form is half-way between a finite verb and an infinite verb" - but half-way along what dimensions? What dimensions even separate the two kinds?

It turns out infinitives vary a lot from language to language, and not all languages even have them. However, one could possibly design the verb system in such a way that there are forms with different properties, and the verb forms form three or four clusters.

Maybe one could even get rid of the notion of a finite verb with some clever decisions, and instead distribute the properties that generally characterize a finite verb to two or three other verb forms that have to be combined in order to achieve a properly finite VP?

Of course participles, verbal nouns, converbs, coverbs, conegatives, gerunds, forms that just get called "infinitive III" or the like, etc have a lot of different coordinates in "verb property space" - and these may not even be uniform from language to language or even dialect to dialect - and sometimes, they even come close enough to finite verb space to cross over that line. 

The challenge for a conlanger, as I see it, is getting distinct clusters. Once my post on infinitives is done, I may write a follow-up that attempts coming up with some way of mapping "verb form space" onto three clusters (or four) in "verb property space".

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